Thursday, 7 May 2009

Noticing things

The death last week of the poet U A Fanthorpe has robbed me if not of a friend then at least of an erudite and stimulating conversation to overhear. The news prompted me to take down her poems again and it is Consequences (2000) which I’ve been re-enjoying in particular over the last couple of days.

She notices things. She is famous for beginning to write because she did so as a medical receptionist. But here it is what she noticed as an English teacher which stands out most: revelling in Anglo-Saxon names for the months; offering different takes on Shakespeare, Tennyson and Wordsworth in particular; highlighting the euphemisms of war with a Quaker determination.

I love the sense that the victor can ‘use’ architecture while the vanquished may even end up buried under a modern car park, that the purity of snow is a ‘popular fallacy’ exposed by ‘its spiteful tally of wrens, explorers, old people sitting in chairs, kingfishers, match girls’, and that we may be surprised by what we find ‘as Cabot aimed for Japan, got Newfoundland instead’.

And then there are the handful of simple poems which could stand alongside the greats of religious poetry (including hassocks preaching ‘remember before God all the obliterated’, and a characterisation of each Gospel, its writer and his symbol) coming almost at the very end to the exquisite Bird Psalm which I had up on my study wall until I last moved house, finishing with the sounds of the owl:

He is who, who is he
Who enters the heart as soft
As my soundless wings, as me.

Meanwhile, I took the picture at Heckington on Saturday on our way back from our night away in Stamford.

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